Feb 20

Day 5: Badwater, Artist’s Palette and Natural Bridge Canyon

Category: Death Valley

Despite fits of plague-carrier wet coughing, I staggered out of bed determined to have a vacation, goddammit! I didn’t have illusions of taking long hikes, but I was pretty well drugged up with antihistamines, tylenol and a number of other meds, so I felt strong enough to do a little.

A number of major attractions are within easy reach of Furnace Creek, many of which can be enjoyed with little effort. Everybody stops at these places. Badwater in particular is a target for buses that disgorge hordes of obese tourists.

We had timed our visit to coincide with the first bloom of flowers in the desert, and we were not disappointed. An overcast sky at sunset provided wonderful and strange lighting conditions.

flowers with strange light

We also checked out badwater, the official location of North America’s lowest point. Salt covers the ground as far as the eye can see. Nearby there is a cliff with a sign marking sea level, and you can see how high above you that is.Unlike my experience at high altitude, low altitude doesn’t feel any different. It’s a good example of the atmosphere’s tenuousness; descend 10 feet underwater and your eardrums can burst, but 282 extra feet of air over your head are not noticeable. Rachel Carson wrote that we are “bottom dwellers in a sea of air” and I often think of this when I scuba dive. I spent hours at an elevation hundreds of feet below sea level, and then immediately drove to thousands of feet above it with no ill effects. But a mere hour spent under 60 feet of water followed by a rapid ascent could easily kill you.

Here’s Holly in natural bridge canyon:

natural bridge

The artist’s palette is a region of eroded metal salt deposits. It is hard to believe that the colors are natural, but they really do look like this:
artists' palette

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